Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Today’s article is written by Rick Boyles, a respected Past Grand Master of the California Grand Lodge of the Odd Fellows, who has just returned from this year’s Sovereign Grand Lodge gathering in Iowa. Rick was a candidate for the office of Sovereign Grand Warden. He was not elected, but he has sent along some fascinating statistics. Numbers don’t lie. And the numbers reveal what I consider the primal issue facing the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) in the 21st Century – declining membership. As I have said in many DMC articles over the past decade, without an evolution and change in the way we do business, we can expect more of the same membership decline.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
So, I just experienced another embarrassing loss at Sovereign Grand Lodge. I got very few (3) votes. Very embarrassing. It’s a new low. Yet, I often win elections in California, the biggest U.S. jurisdiction by far, often by double-digit margins. Why? It’s not readily apparent, but we can find answers as we crunch the numbers.
Every year, the Sovereign Grand Lodge releases numbers within every Odd Fellows jurisdiction in the world. This is a healthy way of analyzing the trajectory of our order. If, for example, we ignored the numbers, we could easily fall into disarray without any notice whatsoever. So, let’s do a little analysis. This member list also includes Canada. This is a public document printed for the Sovereign Grand Lodge Representatives to share with their members.
IOOF jurisdictions below 100 members
- Alabama, 57 members
- Louisiana, 69 members
- Manitoba, 90 members
- Mississippi, 76 members
- Montana, 80 members
- New Mexico, 94 members
- North Dakota, 97 members
- Saskatchewan, 0 members
- Utah, 37 members
- Vermont, 79 members
- South Carolina, no longer listed.
Total in this grouping, 11 jurisdictions – 679 members
IOOF jurisdictions below 200 members
- Arizona, 125 members
- Arkansas, 135 members
- District of Columbia, 124 members
- Georgia, 111 members
- Nevada, 105 members
- New Hampshire, 118 members
- Quebec, 107 members
- Rhode Island, 121 members
- South Dakota, 174 members
- Tennessee, 179 members
Total in this grouping: 10 jurisdictions – 1,299 members
IOOF jurisdictions below 300 members
- Alberta, 228 members
- Atlantic Provinces, 285 members
- Connecticut, 271 members
- Delaware, 263 members
- Idaho, 200 members
- Kansas, 239 members
- Minnesota, 244 members
- Wisconsin, 225 members
- Wyoming, 244 members
Total in this grouping: 9 jurisdictions – 2,199 members
IOOF jurisdictions below 500 members
- British Columbia, 343 members
- Colorado, 354 members
- Florida, 482 members
- Iowa, 446 members
- Maryland, 446 members
- Michigan, 463 members
- New Hampshire, 387 members
- New Jersey, 367 members
- North Carolina, 311 members
- Oklahoma, 302 members
- Virginia, 457 members
Total in this grouping, 11 jurisdictions – 4,358 members
IOOF jurisdictions below 1,000 members
- Indiana, 598 members
- Kentucky, 587 members
- Maine, 564 members
- Massachusetts, 588 members
- Missouri, 542 members
- New York, 776 members
- Ohio, 785 members
- Ontario, 964 members
- Texas, 838 members
- Washington, 747 members
- West Virginia, 943 members
Total in this grouping: 11 jurisdictions – 7,932 members
IOOF jurisdictions below 2,000 members
- Illinois, 1,298 members
- Oregon, 1,674 members
- Pennsylvania, 1,678 members
Total in this grouping: 3 jurisdictions – 4,650 members
IOOF jurisdictions below 5,000 members
- California – 4,641 members
Fifty-six total jurisdictions. 25,758 members in total listed.
One will note that California is the largest jurisdiction by far. It is larger than the smallest 30 jurisdictions combined. Yet, we have identical representation to the smallest jurisdictions. Hawaii is not listed on their jurisdictional report but as an “Odd Fellows Lodge under the Immediate Jurisdiction under the Sovereign Grand Lodge.” They note 263 members in the State of Hawaii. Also, if you may recall, several years ago, I wrote a paper predicting an ever-increasing decline based on the average age of the members, mortality rate, and other factors. It is pretty close to my predictions. Of course, factors such as the mortality rate are impossible to dispute. Besides the mortality rate, there are other factors, as many members become largely inactive in their later years.
The last time I ran for Sovereign Grand Warden after losing, it was recommended that I never again speak about membership at SGL by several Past Sovereign Grand Masters, probably because much of the power within our order emanates from the smaller jurisdictions. So, this time, I spoke lightly about California attractions, but that had no traction whatsoever. So, it seems that no one wants to discuss membership or hear about anything involving California. Of course, I am not the only gauge by which to mark our descent. I am not a great public speaker. But these figures don’t lie. They are figures released by Sovereign Grand Lodge. To put it bluntly, in only a few years, we have lost a quarter of our membership. The decline in numbers may be beyond resolution at a certain point, and we are quickly approaching that level. Remember, we must maintain a quorum in lodges in each jurisdiction and a quorum of members in every lodge. Do the math yourself from here. Remember to include the average age of our members, which I estimate to be between 75-80 years old, active members, and many other factors. The CDC notes that the mortality rate as of 2021 was 76. If we don’t acknowledge that we are declining, it will be harder to fight against the descent.
On a happier note, while our U.S. jurisdictions are declining in membership steadily, our European membership is accelerating. There are several reasons for this, but it is not my place to detail them. I know they seem to be a more festive group that tends more to dinners and events rather than being bogged down in the red tape and turmoil we in America love to wrap ourselves in. One European member was stunned that we were still debating an item in an installation ritual passed at Sovereign Grand Lodge in 2017. Turmoil does not help in retaining members. I know that one of our European members said that he admired lodges such as our own Davis, CA lodge for its steady increase in membership, its similarity to their lodges, and its constant push toward a more entertaining atmosphere.
Europe alone has over 45,000 members, almost twice as many as those in the U.S. and Canada.
In F., L., & T.
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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